An isolated man if forced to confront his fears.
The Mathematician's Land
As I gently lean over the balcony edge to get better look at the city far below, the fear starts to creep in once again. Not the fear that I'll accidentally slip off, that would just be irrational. The only way I could fall from here is if I jumped, which would only happen if I'm suicidally depressed. But the trouble is, I'm not quite sure whether I'm already at that point or not--and that scares me more than anything else.
It would certainly make a great deal of sense if I was depressed, after all I spend my days here in complete isolation, constantly at work on my many problems. I often find myself longing for someone else to come into my life and break up the monotony of my mathematics. But it seems like just as often I find myself in extreme contentment as I work completely undisturbed by anyone.
Yet it seems as if the terrible thoughts lurking in the dark corners of my mind telling me to jump grow with every visit to this balcony. My solitary contentedness aside, it does seem clear that humans are primarily social creatures (and despite my odd midnight doubts, I am most certainly human), so perhaps there's only so long before these instincts will get the better of me, as I plunge in eternal despair to the streets far below.
For such an extreme issue, it has an easy solution. All I need to do to avoid this is to walk outside and re-enter the busy world of humanity. But there seems to be some force locking me in isolation, and the thought of going out and meeting with other people is for some reason completely unthinkable. I begin to wonder if this is the same force that will eventually push me over, but I quickly retreat from the edge before my thoughts can go any further.
The balcony door closes behind me as I leave, swiftly walking back into my cramped office, which is filled with too many chairs I never use. As I sit at my desk, a ringing sound draws my attention to another rarely used office item, a phone in the far corner.
A ringing phone in my office, what a strange thing. I wonder if I should answer it. If I long so much for human contact, shouldn't I jump at the opportunity to talk to someone? But I as my hand hovers over the phone, I release that perhaps I'm afraid of talking to people, afraid of how it could force me to reconsider who I am. My hand hovers over it, my head a whirlwind of opposing thoughts. I'm about to dismiss the phone, when it occurs to me that perhaps it's an important business call, so I decide that I'd better pick it up. I have a job here, after all, and so I answer it.
Far from completely changing my view of the world, the conversation I have on the phone seems rather boring. Part of this is because the voice on the other end sounds like a generic phone voice. What I really must need is face-to-face contact--and no phone conversation can substitute for that. I listen to the drab voice, replying with one word sentences every now and then, and my mind starts to drift before the voice says something incredibly surprising: apparently there's a meeting scheduled in my office, to go over all my work here with the company. Soon they hang up, leaving me with this terribly wonderful news.
After putting the phone down, I check the clock the find that there a few more hours until the meeting starts. Anxiety starts to creep in as I fully accept that I'm going to have to meet with others. For perhaps the first time I realize how messy my desk is, with disorganized stacks of paper, pencils strewn about, and a few mathematical instruments placed pointlessly around. It seems like a bit of organization is in order. I shuffle through the nearest stack of papers, looking for a way to organize them. Upon examination of them, though, I get swept up in the infinite possibilities that each of them presents, and it become quite clear that it would be impossible to put them in any meaningful order. So instead I take out the ones that I decide are the cornerstones of all my equations, and put everything else in my desk.
Examining the equations, I feel a small burst of nostalgia for some of these equations I've worked on so long I can't remember when I started. Equations that I had often revised, rewrote, and occasionally restated many times over. As I muse over these unfinished works, I try to remember any equations that I had finished, and none immediately come to mind. Upon further thought I realize that this is because so far all the equation that I did finish were pointlessly simple ones that I finished too quickly and promptly threw away. Certainly a far cry away from the ones I still work on, so complex they could completely revolutionize the way people think about mathematics when I'm finished with them.
One of them is graph of a circle filled with many notes and equations, and footnotes written along the outside. Probably my most complicated work, it describes the flow of time, in a circular model. Perhaps one of the most interesting things about it is that it would mean that you could easily travel into the past simply by traveling into the future. Time travel has always been something which interests me greatly, which is probably why I've been working on this one for so long. Dreams of time travel often lead me to think about strange thoughts like my future children coming back in time and meeting me. In the future I would of course be a well renowned mathematician, and perhaps my children would be jealous of my work and try to come back and take the credit, or maybe they would come back simply to help me accomplish my destiny. I write a few explanatory notes on this papers and others, and my mind drifts further until I lose track of time and I hear a knocking at my door.
"Is this the office of... Mr. Spector?" says the man who walks in. It has a somewhat surreal aspect to it, finally meeting with someone. My initial excitement is made somewhat less upon my examination of his appearance--short brown hair, well dressed, cleanly shaven, and a with generic face.He's a very normal looking man .So normal looking, in fact, that my first opinion of him is slightly negative, and this quells my excitement a bit. But first impressions are often wrong, so I resolve to make an effort and try to judge him a bit more objectively. I've been longing for a long time to meet someone else, so I shouldn't be so quick to dismiss him. It also strikes me that since I can't remember the last time I met with another person is seems awfully unfair to write him off as generic.
"Yeah," I reply.
I shake his hand as he comes in, and he introduces himself to me; a rather generic name that I quickly forget. Soon the door opens once again and this time a woman come in. Her appearance immediately strikes me as less generic than that of the man, and something about her appearance just makes her seem more intelligent. There is also something vaguely familiar about her, but I can't exactly place it. My minds wanders randomly a bit until I think back to the time travel, and an completely insane idea popped into my head for no apparent reason--what if this woman is my daughter from the future? The absurdness of this idea initially strikes me as slightly humorous since it seems so random, but as I consider it more it seems like it is actually quite possible. Just last night I had a few ideas which seemed like it could finally lead to the completion of the circle of time with only a few more weeks of work, so it'd be of great coincidence for her to simply happen to come at this time. Additionally, the difference in my reaction to her and the other man seem so great that her being my kin would be the only logical explanation.
After this train of thought I realize that I was shaking hands with the woman (my daughter?) and she had just finished introducing herself, but again I hadn't paid attention.
"Well," says the man after me and my daughter finish shaking hands, "Unlike Spector I don't get paid to sit around and think, so let's get to business!"
His comment makes me slightly uncomfortable since it seems both confrontational and complainatory, it this only confirms my initial negative thoughts on him. He seems like a real asshole, and I doubt he will contribute much, if anything, to the meeting we are about to have. Lucky my daughter is here, so my excitement in this meeting wasn't without merit. In fact, it may prove more informative that I ever could have hoped--she could hold untold future knowledge.
My daughter and the asshole both pull up chairs and sit down, my daughter taking out a clipboard and pen. They both soon start droning on about the boring business end of the company that I was both ignorant and apathetic on.
"Well, Spector?" my daughter suddenly asks, expectantly.
"Uh, yeah," I say, trying to answer generically since I don't know what the question is.
"What?" she says in a surprised tone, "Well that--"
"Oh, sorry, I mean no," I say quickly, since it looks like I said the wrong thing.
"What? Oh, well that makes much more sense," she says, crossing out a few things she'd written, before continuing, "Well, it looks like everything in that area's in order, then," (I have no idea what "that area" is, so I just nod).
"So," the asshole says, "Let's move on to the work you've been doing. I understand that you have a rather free-form job as a mathematician, and you mainly just work on your own projects before turning in the completed works to the company?"
"Yeah," I reply. Finally, know we were on to the actually important stuff, all of my great works. It does hit me that as far as I recall I hadn't ever actually submitted anything to the company, but since neither of them bring it up I don't either.
"Well then," my daughter says, "why don't you show us what you're working on?'
"Yeah," I say, and my level of excitement slowly starts to rise, "Well I don't have anything finished at the moment, but I've been working on for a quite a while now."
"Hmm," she says, pausing for a moment before continuing, "well then why don't you go head and show us then?"
"Oh, yeah," I reply, grabbing a few of the papers of my desk to show to them.
"What's that? A drawing of a circle?" my daughter says, obviously feigning ignorance, "What are those equations you've written along the outside? I can't at all understand them." The asshole looks at the paper with a rather dumbfounded expression, obviously not able to understand any of it.
"All, well, you see," I say, "That's a timeline, in the shape of circle. Something I've considered, if time flows in a circle. Now, this means the future eventually become the past which leads into the present, before turning back into the future again, " I say, trying to explain to the asshole's simple mind, although I don't really know why I bother--my daughter is really the only one that matters here, and since she traveled time she must already know this stuff, "This also makes time travel possible, although it can create a few paradoxes--I've thought about a lot of them, aside from the usual grandfather paradox. There's one I like to call the book paradox--" I say, and as I'm about to continue, I get a great idea--I'll slightly change the premise of the book paradox to turn it into a total mind-screw, so my daughter will know that I know who she is--"Imagine my daughter travels back in time from the future and gives me a book. I read it and give it to my present day daughter, who later travels back and gives it to me."
I examine her face carefully after I say this. A brief expression of confusion quickly crosses her face, but something seems a bit off about it, something more that confusion--like realizing that I know she's my daughter.
"So... where did the book come from?" she asks, after hesitating.
"What?" I say, "Oh, well, I guess, but the real thing is, each time someone reads a book, it gets slightly more worn out. And since the book is going around time infinitely, it's infinitely worn out--it'd just be a pile of dust. Since the book never started anywhere, it would always be a pile of dust, there could never have been a book, even though that's what my daughter initially gave me."
"Huh," she replies, and then checks her watch, "Well, it's been a great meeting and all, but unfortunately I have to go now." She stands up, and shakes my hand again. Well, this is probably the last time I'll see her for a while, probably the next time won't be until after I marry and my wife gives birth to her. Should I confront her, tell her I know she's my daughter? Perhaps, but one the other hand, this wouldn't really accomplish anything, and besides, it's not like the asshole needed to know.
"Bye," the asshole says, "I can stay for a bit longer, but I'm sure you have better things to do than talk to this dreamer over here," he says, and a smug expression comes across his face that intensifies my dislike of him.
After my daughter leaves the meeting becomes intolerably dull. Hard to believe that I was looking forward to this earlier today. He drones on and on, and I almost fall asleep, but keep myself up so he won't think he has to repeat anything. I mainly keep nodding while he talks, which seems satisfactory to him.
"Well, I guess I should be off soon," he eventually says.
"Goodbye," I say, standing up, hoping he'll get out of here as soon as possible.
"I still have a few minutes to spare though," he says, "Hey, I've never been this high in the building before--do you have a balcony?"
"Mind if I have a look out on it?"
I follow him as he walks out onto balcony. He stands there like an asshole, looking out up at the sky. I slowly walk beside him and look down to the ground. The fears that I might one day I become suicidal seem so far away now. Not because my meeting with people left me reinvigorated, but because standing next to the asshole made me realize my life was much too precious to waste, because if if died that would lead the world to the assholes. Perhaps I could push him off, in some morbid way it seemed like that would help the world. Does this make me a psychopath, since I'm considering killing someone for no real reason? Maybe I'm only a psychopath if I actually go through with it, which I don't, because that would almost certainly get me fired.
"Wow, great view from up here. Wouldn't want to fall off from this height, eh?" he says, before adding, "Spector, I envy you--I sure wish I could have your job, just sitting in an office all day doing nothing for a living."
The asshole laughs, before giving me what I suppose is a friendly little punch on the shoulder.
"I'm just giving you a hard time. I don't know if you know this, but a lot of people here consider you one of the most valuable members in the company."
I certainly did not know that--I didn't even think I'd done anything noteworthy yet. I'm working on a few extremely important projects, yes, but none of them are even close to being finished, and as far as I could recall I've never actually submitted anything to the company.
"What? But I haven't done anything..." I say, a bit confused.
"What? Oh, right," he says, "When they collect your garbage, they pull out a lot of the documents you throw away. One man's trash, eh? I have to tell you, those papers you throw away are extremely useful and easily understandable--not like that stuff you showed me today, which went way over my head. Well, anyway, I'd better be going," he says, leaving me alone on the balcony.
Once again, I'm here alone, completely by myself. But now I realize how good it is to be alone, away from all the assholes. Well, perhaps not everyone's an asshole, after all my daughter was here too. But nothing really came of that. Sure, my, daughter came back in time to meet me, but she didn't actually do anything, in fact I don't understand why she would come back in the first place if she didn't have any purpose. Of course, I suppose there's the possibility that she wasn't my daughter. In hindsight it does seem like a rather absurd and pointless idea I made up to make the meeting seem more interesting after having already been disappointed in the asshole. Do I actually believe it? If I believe something so completely insane what does that make me? But of course, I never actually believed it. Without that filter it is quite clear to see that my "daughter" was just as stupid as the asshole was. Before I had regretted being lonely, thinking that it would contribute to my eventual depression. But it is clear now that lonely is the absolute best feeling one could have, because without it there is only anger and annoyance.
The meeting had not been entirely pointless, though. After all, the asshole had told about how the company uses all my useless equations I throw away. But I suppose if the company uses them they might not be as useless as I thought. And as for my unfinished ones... are they really all that useful? My best one was about time travel but all that led to was the misguided belief that a stranger was my daughter. At least none of my supposed "useless" ones had contributed to my delusions. Then perhaps it's best I rid myself of the burden so that I can start anew.
I walk swiftly back into my office, and completely clear out my desk of all the equations I now know are useless. Nostalgia rears it ugly head once again, but it quickly dissipates as I throw all the papers into my tras. Of course, throwing them away won't be enough (seeing as how the company looks through my trash), so I take the can out on the balcony, and, using a magnifying glass I got from my desk, set the papers on fire. I grab a chair from my office and now I sit on the balcony, until the equations burn up, and there's nothing left but dust.